Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus.

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief.

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.

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Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

In some Bible translations, the word ‘meekness’ replaces the word ‘gentleness’. Many of us struggle with a clear definition of the word ‘meekness,’ but we know for sure the demonstration of gentleness when we see it.

We picture a mother holding her baby’s finger for the first time. A dad scrubbing with his hand the dirt from his child’s skinned knee. The way we would take a fish off a hook. Removing a splinter. Holding an elderly person’s hand.

The perfect example of gentleness, of course, is the manner in which Jesus handles us. Sure, He can be stern when He needs to be. (That’s how He handled demons.) For the most part, however, Jesus treats us as only a loving God can. Gentleness is one of His attributes and He can’t deny His own character.

The Golden Rule–which takes mercy into account–instructs us in gentleness.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31

Please listen today to the voice of the Holy Spirit in communicating with others.

What is Jesus Doing?

Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering.  Ever feel that way?

If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.

What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

In our relationships, we value trustworthiness in people. We want to be able to rely on them.

The Holy Spirit grows this virtue in us as we follow Jesus, being obedient to God and His purposes.

God is the One we can trust for everything. When friends and family let us down–and they will–we know God is faithful even when we and others fail to be all we could be.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Growing in the other Fruit of the Spirit, we learn to be trustworthy. We are faithful to God and begin to improve our earthly relationships because God is teaching us a better way.

 

 

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

When someone says the word ‘kindness,’ what we think of can be a mixture of other words as we consider how to define it. We think about how people are nice; that they act in a loving way; or that people who are kind must be generous.

All of these simple descriptions are a part of what it means to be kind. I suppose we can also consider how another person perceives what we think is a kindness on our part. However, it’s a pretty sure thing that when we act out of love and humility and when we are kind in an obviously selfless way, people are more open to us and will name ‘kindness’ for what it is. Sometimes kindness can be shown by just using good manners.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

In relationships, we can show kindness by treating friends graciously even during challenging times. We are kind to someone whom we call ‘friend’ when we accept them for who they are, not expecting them to fulfill our definition of what they should be. Having a friend means being honest, firm and gentle when we’re challenged by discord.

“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14

Often, we fail to be kind because we just don’t think of it. Our lives are so full of busyness, we don’t make acts of kindness a habit. We’re rushing right past people who need kindness. We can find comfort in knowing that it’s only through God’s Spirit that kindness can be a consistent part of a believer’s experience. Quite simply, we surrender to the Holy Spirit and listen for the prompts to act kindly.

Most people are familiar with the term Random Acts of Kindness. And people are familiar with a variety of popular ways to show kindness in an ordinary day. Like holding a door open for someone or buying their purchase while we go through a drive-through. Here are some other ideas: offering someone your pen and letting them keep it; giving your umbrella to a stranger; writing someone an encouraging note; taping a microwave popcorn packet to a movie rental kiosk (leave a short note telling them you hope they enjoy the movie); picking up litter on the beach; donating your cut hair to a charity that makes wigs from it and distributes them for free; sending care packages to military personnel overseas.

On the website Positive Outlooks, stories about how folks are being kind are the norm. In fact, these bloggers go looking for them. Truly, kindness is a way of showing people by how you treat them that they have value.

Regardless of how you define ‘kindness,’ God rewards you when you choose to selflessly help others. Make it a point to perform random acts of kindness today and to top it off, don’t let anyone else find out.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Fruit of the Spirit 3: Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

 

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, “peace” is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean a person must tackle and be mature in “love” and “joy” before he can obtain peace. The Spirit begins working every single fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow Him.

And if you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you understand that we don’t “tackle” them as if we need to strive to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we are surrendered to His will.

Think about this: If Jesus told us that it’s His peace He gives, and not the kind of peace the world gives, wouldn’t you want that? The peace the world offers is fleeting and, more often than not, based on emotions. At its most basic, that peace is a lie from Satan.

With the peace of God, our condition can be calm, not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us. Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give; a never ending grace. Your peace is what we want and we ask you to protect our hearts from the peace the world offers. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen

Living the Fruit of the Spirit 2: Joy

 

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. What a gift to receive. Why would anyone not want the joy of our God?

Joy is a permanent possession while happiness is fleeting. Our happiness quite often is expressed as something we have or we don’t . “I’m not very happy today.” or “Oh, I’m so happy right now!”

Joy can be described as exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness, and can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation but the definition of joy that the world holds is not nearly as amazing as biblical joy.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can be overwhelming and it’s often associated with gratitude, lack of worry, a simple life, a full life. Not to mention being in constant contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy must naturally follow. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:`3 (Jesus’ high priestly prayer)

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise as Jesus said that His joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show the evidence of you which your Holy Spirit provides. Amen

 

God Uses Ordinary People

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled , ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things o the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world…” 1 Corinthians 1:26-28

We all can be used by God if we belong to Him. Young, old, man, woman, child, educated, without education. No matter who we are (or what we have done), we’re the people who fulfill God’s purpose.

Be glad He chose you and be a blessing to someone today.

Foodie Failure? There’s Grace

What have been some of your worst foodie failures? Seriously, share in the comments and let us know. We’ve all had them. From poached eggs that wouldn’t stay together, steak too well done (can you say ‘burned?’), cakes with a soggy middle, to pudding that wouldn’t “pudd.” If you putter in the kitchen, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

I subscribe to a few Foodie blogs and it’s fun to read their posts about exotic recipes and drool over the photos accompanying the descriptions of that food. But sometimes I wonder how many tries it took to get the recipe right. And how many actual photos were taken before they found the one shot which had the food situated just right on the plate, the lighting was correct, and the food didn’t melt into a creamy mess.

Remembering that I’ve had my own Foodie failures, I’m inclined to offer grace to my fellow cooks. Getting a cheesecake loosened from a spring-form pan the first time is tricky. That’s okay. It tastes the same as if it had beautiful edges.

You get the idea.

I have a classic Foodie Failure story which I posted just so my readers could see how people will extend grace when we flop at cooking.

That was a great experience for me. Those friends were women from my church and fellow choir members. They knew the story of how God has extended grace to us by sending his son, Jesus, to die on a cross to save us from sin. Grace to me for how my zucchini came out that night was the least of the things they could forgive me for. After all, they knew me well.

Today is Good Friday. It’s a good, if not great, day for us, because it’s in remembrance of that day when the ultimate story of grace occurred. From the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

Enjoy this Easter season any way you prefer. I hope you find a way to fit in the story of Christ loving us to the ultimate, despite our failures. Because of his sacrifice, he makes all things new. If you haven’t experienced a relationship with Jesus by receiving him as savior, please consider it.

I’m going now. It’s time to fix a traditional breakfast for myself today. I don’t usually do that. But I’m hoping for no Foodie failures like when the toast is the wrong brownness, the poached eggs are too runny and the bacon gets a little too crisp.

Happy Easter, Eat Hardy, and Be a blessing to someone today.

I Can Only Imagine

This past Sunday, the Church behaved as a church should. Well, my church did anyway.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing the downward spiral that naturally and always follows mania. My diagnosis is complicated and it took years for me to understand it. True depression can be inexplicable. If someone asked me, “What’s wrong?” I could say, “Nothing” or I could say, “Everything” and both answers would be correct.

Having manic-depressive illness is something I’ve accepted, but being mentally ill sometimes always stinks.

Now about the Church being what they’re supposed to be…

I went to church under the influence of a medication I took for anxiety the night before. Sleep was eluding me, so I took the med the doctor prescribes “as needed.” It was surely needed. The anxiety was crippling and I only got about three hours of sleep because I was so agitated. I drove to church seeing double. It helped if I closed one eye, but driving one-eyed has its limitations. All through the sermon, Pastor kept splitting in two as he moved about the stage.

Between services I told our spiritual growth pastor I probably wouldn’t be able to write the sermon study because I hadn’t been able to concentrate and I had scanty notes. I gave her the lowdown. She must have moved into action right then. Brothers and Sisters began to approach me to let me know they would make sure I got home safely.

Imagine a church body that in a crisis acts like Jesus. I felt no judgements on me for being sick. The people involved treated me as if I had a “respectable” illness. They touched me just like Jesus was willing to touch the man with leprosy. They spoke to me without condescension. I was given time to just be comfortable until church was over and they could help me get home. I could almost hear them saying, “(Let’s) Go in peace.”

I wish every church body could understand––or at least try to accept––mental illness as a real sickness. Too many times we hear people tell us we could be healed if we had more faith. People suggest we pray more. I’ve been told I’m possessed.

Listen. I have faith in the healing power of Jesus. I pray. I trust God will get me through the tough times because he already has on numerous occasions. But Jesus didn’t heal every sick person he came into contact with while he lived here, walking around preaching the Good News. Maybe I’m one of the people God has decided to not heal. He hasn’t healed my good friend who’s been insulin dependent for over 30 years either and I know she prays and has faith in God.

It’s okay I’m still manic-depressive, even though, as I said, it stinks. Because I’ve experienced peace when I should have been crawling the walls. I’ve been able to read my Bible and know the words are meant for me right then, in the scattered state I’m in. Or in a funk so deep I’m reminded of King David’s “pit.” Those are the times when nothing can make me leave the house except maybe firefighters insisting upon it.

Helen Keller was an amazing woman. Read her autobiography some day. For the most part, she had a good attitude about life and didn’t let being disabled hold her back from what she wanted to accomplish. My disability isn’t the same as hers. But I find these words of hers something I relate to and am grateful for.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

What will it take for God’s people to be more accepting of the poor, the uneducated, the ‘sinners,’ the foreigners, the criminals, and anyone who’s just plain different from them? I’m not sure, but I experienced on Sunday what I believe Jesus had in mind.

Love.